Anita Vadgama on working from home – here we go again

Last May I wrote about the challenges of juggling working with those of homeschooling primary school age children.  When I wrote that blog, I did not think that almost a year later, I would be in the same boat.  Thankfully school has been much better organised this time round, my 10-year-old twins have twice daily zooms with their teachers and classmates and a whole raft of work on google classrooms to keep them occupied (well that’s the aim).  The twins are also older now and a bit more self-sufficient, although I am sure that if I didn’t watch over my son, he would meander through the day doing anything else on his computer than his schoolwork.

I am lucky though; my employer is sympathetic. Not only do they listen, but they have promised every working parent flexibility to help them manage their work and childcare during this lockdown.  Other parents aren’t so lucky.  Just a few days ago, the TUC, after conducting a poll of more than 50,000 working mums between 7 and 10 January, found that of those who had asked for furlough, an alarming 7 out of 10 requests had been rejected. 

Under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CRJS), employers are allowed to furlough parents who cannot work because of a lack of childcare. The CRJS’s purpose is to pay staff costs for employers who are ‘adversely affected by Coronavirus’ and the HMRC has recently been very explicit in their updated Guidance that it can be used for employees who need time off due to childcare and that in these circumstances this doesn’t need to be related to a reduction in work.

It is clear from these figures though that employers are not seeing this as a viable option for working mums who are struggling to look after and teach their kids and do a good job at the same time.  This is leaving working parents feeling distraught in an already highly stressful situation. 

With no immediate end in sight, unions are lobbying the government to introduce a temporary right to furlough for groups who cannot work because of coronavirus restrictions – namely parents and those who are clinically extremely vulnerable and required to shield.

In the meantime, there should be an onus placed on employers to look at flexible working arrangements more favourably, whether that is reducing the numbers of hours of work, splitting hours over more days or reducing and spreading out workloads. 

What may end up happening, is a working parent decides that s/he has no choice but to leave their work, because they can’t do both.  That would be sad not just for the parent but a huge waste in talent and resources for lots of employers.

At didlaw, we can help you navigate your employment situation and help you to find flexible ways to work to alleviate the strain of childcare.  The best advice is to seek legal advice at an early stage, and we are here to listen.

This blog is by Anita Vadgama, Legal Director at didlaw